Pregnancy, labor and body image in the United States

Emily Martin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Although substantial research has been done showing how alienation (which in Ollman's terms means that "an essential tie has been cut in the middle") manifests itself in the domain of human labor, little has been done to discover how similar processes might operate in other domains. I examine women's images of their bodies while they are pregnant, using Lakoff and Johnson's method of looking for metaphors that are presupposed in our ordinary language. I uncover several central images, all of which display a marked sense of separation of self from the parts of the body, and a passive stance in which events are described as happening to rather than being brought about by the speaker. Turning to written texts, I find that the literature on childbirth (from opposite ends of the spectrum-popular literature advocating prepared childbirth on one end and obstetrical texts for medical students on the other) holds as assumption in common: that the uterus is an involuntary muscle. This is so despite evidence to the contrary cited in the texts themselves. I explore the implications of this imagery for obstetrical treatment of 'uterine inertia' and show the similarity between this imagery and ideas about women's physiology that were current in the 19th century.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1201-1206
    Number of pages6
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Issue number11
    StatePublished - 1984

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • History and Philosophy of Science


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